High Art, Ultimate Frisbee, & Rube Goldberg Machines: An Interview with Gideon KendalDenise McArthur 02.27.2015
“I went to school for fine arts in the mid-80s—drawing and painting, all very traditional,” says Gideon Kendall. “When I got out, I tried to follow that standard path: I got a job at a gallery. But I remember thinking, wait a minute—something’s wrong here.”
Gideon and I sat down to discuss his journey as an illustrator, cartoonist, designer, musician, ultimate Frisbee fanatic, father, and husband.
GL: What was it about the gallery art world that felt wrong?
GK: The gallery I worked in was all about very conceptual and minimalist artwork. There wasn’t much room for humor or fun. I wasn’t enjoying it and I didn’t feel comfortable in that world.
My wife, Julie Peppito, is an artist, too; she’s a fantastic sculptor—she’s much further along in the art world. I’m a huge fan of her work.
GL: That’s awesome; do you guys ever collaborate?
GK: Yeah, we’ve even had a few shows together back in the 90’s when she was just getting started—I totally rode her coattails (laughs). I made oil paintings and sculptures. I used to do a lot of work with Styrofoam, I’d cover it in rubber and paint it. I also did some work for way-off-Broadway theaters, making masks and statues for productions.
I moved away from that and started doing more comics, illustrations, and animation—I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now. My wife and I still collaborate, though. It’s important to both of us to have a creative relationship. When we go on dates we’ll just find a cafe, we’ll do these collaborative drawings. We hope to publish them one day.
GL: That’s really cool. What other passion projects are you working on?
GK: I’m really excited about my graphic novel, Whatzit. Issue 2 just came out recently and I’m partway through Issue 3. I’ve also been collaborating with my writer friend Doug Latino on these short, Harvey Pekar-style autobiographical comics called Wait… It Gets Worse. I’ve got lots of good stories from my childhood—I had a fairly atypical upbringing, my parents started a commune, so it wasn’t the most normal thing in the world. It ‘s really fun to talk about how I grew up in this graphic format. Doug and I are both dads so we’re also including stories about that…
GL: I’ve heard you’re really into Ultimate Frisbee, too?
GK: Absolutely. I discovered ultimate in ’93, right around the same time that I was figuring out that I wasn’t super into the New York City art world—I was going through a type of early-life crisis and feeling down.
A friend and I were walking through Prospect Park and were casually throwing the Frisbee back and forth. These guys showed up and said, “Hey, are you here for the game?” We were like, “sure, yeah.” I’ve been playing two or three times a week since. I took it pretty seriously, played on club teams, went to tournaments. I’m in my late 40s now, but I still play—it’s a great sport, I love it.
GL: You don’t play now, though? In the winter?
GK: No, we do.
GK: Nope, in Prospect Park.
GL: In the snow?
GK: Yep (laughs). We played yesterday for three hours in the snow. People get really into it. When I started playing, I was living in Manhattan and riding my bike down three times a week. Ultimate Frisbee was actually a huge part of my decision to move to Brooklyn. We’re in Kensington, close to the park. I usually work from home too.
GL: How do you like working from home?
GK: I love it. We just finished renovating the attic, a lifelong dream of mine. It’s really great working there. Growing up, my dad always worked from home—that was always an ideal of mine. I’ve got room to illustrate and paint, I’ve got all my music gear up there too. Its my self-indulgent paradise.
GL: Do you play music often?
GK: Yeah, I’m actually in a band called the Ditty Committee. We’ve been playing for a while. Everyone’s got a real life now, but we’ve made a bunch of records, played a lot of shows, done a little tour. Lately we’ve been playing with an improv comedy troupe, “The Internet Disagrees.” We wrote their theme song—they’re a really talented group.
My old band, Fake Brain, actually wrote and performed the end-credit song to CODENAME: Kid’s Next Door, a Cartoon Network show that I worked on as a production designer. That’s actually how I got connected to IdeaRocket, through Robert.
GL: Robert Kopecky?
GK: Right. He’s just amazing, I admire that guy so much. We were working together in 2001 on a Cartoon Network show called Kids Next Door. I was doing the backgrounds, Robert was doing the props, and we sat next to each other for about five years.
We were both very fond of each other’s work and became good friends. After the show ended, we both did our own things for a while; as IdeaRocket started growing, Robert introduced me to Will and we hit it off. They’re nice enough to let me work from home, which is also great because I get more time with my son.
GL: Has your perspective on animating and illustrating children’s media changed since having a kid?
GK: It’s a good question. In some ways yes, in other ways, no. My son is six and a half now, in first grade. I’ve showed him a couple books I’ve illustrated, thinking he’d be so excited. He didn’t really care (laughs).
But it does change the way you think about it. Before you have kids, you have these preconceived notions in your head about what they like, how they think. Maybe you have your own old memories warped by time, and that gets all mixed up in what you’ve been told. When you’ve actually got a kid running through your house, you realize it’s totally different. Kids are never what you expect.
GL: How so?
GK: No one can tell them what they’re interested in. My son’s becoming his own person now; it’s not like we can teach him what to like or dislike. I’ll give you an example: my wife and I both being artists, we sort of figured we’d make another artist. So far, though, he’s not really into that, at least not in the traditional sense.
He loves building these Rube Goldberg devices built out of objects around the house—they’re called Pythagorean switches, there’s a Japanese show on YouTube all about them. He’s so into building these, so we help out and through the backdoor sneak in some of our artistic sensibilities—bringing in what we know about aesthetics and construction.
But he has his own ideas about what it means to be creative. He doesn’t want to sit down and draw or play with clay. My mom took me out into the woods as a kid to get me away from capitalist mass culture, and look at me now: I live in NYC and make animations for corporations (laughs)! Now that I have a kid I really feel for her you know?
You really have to let go of your expectations. Before your kid is born, you think to yourself, “I’m going to make a little version of me.” But that’s so not the case—you have to open up, let go, and let them discover what they love.
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